I scrolled through the contacts on my phone looking for someone who still owed me a favor. The past week had been a hectic sprint from safehouse to safehouse while I voided debts in exchange for sanctuary. Now I was stuck in a motel room that I knew wouldn’t be safe for more than the night. By tomorrow they would know where I was. I was done. Tomorrow I would turn myself over to my boss and hope for a quick death. All because I’d made a minor miscalculation that ended up costing my boss not only a large amount of money but also their reputation.
I stripped the case off my phone and popped open its back cover. Inside was a business card, white, matte finish, and blank. “If you ever find yourself backed into an impossible corner, you can use this to get out but afterwards you work for us.” I just needed to write down a place and time. It could be any place at any time so long as the room was empty before I chose it.
I wrote down the motel’s name, my room number, and added five minutes to the current time. I stepped outside and set a five-minute timer on my phone. After what seemed like a lot less than five minutes my phone began buzzing. I turned back to the door to my room and stopped hand on the knob. Was this really what I wanted to do? No, but I had exhausted every other option. I had no more favors to call in nor friends to back me up.
I hesitated another minute, straining to think of some way to not have to walk through the door. Finally, I gave in and turned the knob and pushed the door open. Inside an old woman sat at the small table by the window playing with triangular cards. She looked up and smiled.
“Took you long enough. Would you like to know your future?” She chuckled. Her face though lined and wrinkled was still as familiar as the one I saw in the mirror. The few gray hairs I had started to notice around my temples had replaced her entire head of hair.
“How old are you?” I asked. I sat down opposite her.
“Hmm, let’s see.” She flicked her wrist and a display projected from her bracelet onto her forearm. “According to this, I’m one hundred and eighty-three years and some months old.”
“One of the perks of time travel is you can always go to when medicine is best. I’m due for another rejuvenation in a couple of years. If I keep up with them, I might make three hundred. It’s a shame the tech was only available for twenty years.”
“A collapse. Like always. Nothing lasts. A war or an economic crisis or revolution. Things get better then they get worst and then they get better in a different way. Over and over. You’ll see when you take your tour of time.”
I was silent, watching sadness and anger and disappointment wash across her face. After a moment, she resumed her card game.
“So, I need help,” I said.
“Of course you need help and we’re here to help you.”
“We?” The door opened and a woman in heavy body armor walked in. Her boots thudded on the floor as she walked to take a position behind the old woman. Beneath her visor, I could see a familiar smirk.
“That was unnecessarily dramatic,” the old woman said to the armored woman.
“The kid likes drama otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”
“How are you going to help me?” I asked.
“However you need us to. I can provide medium to far combat support. Or supply you with weapons and training if you’d prefer,” the armored woman said.
“I can give you guidance and advice,” the older woman said.
The door opened again and another woman, younger than me, wearing a black business suit walked in carrying a briefcase. Her heels clicked on the floor as she walked to the side of the card table.
“Or we can just pay off your debt.” She set the briefcase on the table and opened it. Inside it was filled with neat stacks crisp banded high-value bills. More than enough to save my life.
“You’re younger than me?” I asked.
“Yes, I didn’t wait as long to use my card.” From a pocket inside her jacket, she pulled out a white card with writing in blue ink on it.
“But aren’t you me? How can you be younger than me?” The old woman pulled out a card with flowing purple words. The armored woman’s card had brown stains around neatly printed black ink numbers.
She smiled. “The multiverse is much bigger than you think. You’ll learn about that doing your orientation year. So, what do you want to do?”
“I get to choose?”
“Of course it’s your future that you’re shaping.”